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Ottawa Chapter History

Our Chapter is unique in Ontario for our long-term, broad-based commitment to bringing mediation to the public.

The founding members of the Ottawa Chapter did ground-breaking work in the 1980s and 1990s to champion mediation and campaign for its acceptance.

Some founding members participated in federal policy research in the 1990s that led to adding family mediation to the Divorce Act and the Children’s Law Reform Act.

Timeline of Mediation in Ottawa


Ontario Association for Family Mediation (OAFM) is established with John Goodwin as President of the provincial organization.

Justice George Walsh, then head of the Family Law Division of the Supreme Court of Ontario, addresses the first annual meeting of the OAFM. His enthusiastic support of family mediation helps boost support through the legal community in Ontario. In 2013, Canada’s first family law moot competition would be named the Walsh Family Law Moot to recognize the outstanding contribution made by Justice Walsh to the development of family law in Ontario.


Informal discussions regarding establishment of the Ottawa Regional Committee of the OAFM. Family Service Centre Family Mediation Workshop offered by Cathy Aitken and Robert McWhinney.


Ottawa Regional Committee of the OAFM is established with Cathy Aitken as President.


Ottawa Regional Committee of the OAFM becomes the Ottawa Chapter of the OAFM.

OAFM establishes Code of Professional Conduct for family mediators.

Course on Family Mediation is offered at Carleton University with instructors Cecil Fennell, Connie Renshaw, Valerie Whitlam and Wilma Stollman.


Law Society of Upper Canada Continuing Education Program on Family Mediation.

Chapter members Cathy Aitken and Cecil Fennell are joint instructors of a new Carleton University course on Family Mediation Offered by the Department of Law and Legal Studies.


Connie Renshaw, Valerie Whitlam, and John Goodwin take over as instructors of Carleton University course on family mediation. This course has continued in various forms until the present day.  At different times, instructors have included chapter members Peggy Malpass, Shelagh Macdonald, and Kent Swinburne among others.


John Goodwin initiates Ottawa Peer Luncheon, which becomes a monthly feature of the Ottawa Chapter for the next thirty years, organized and facilitated by John.


Ottawa Chapter OAFM provides response to federal Department of Justice “Custody and Access: Public Discussion Paper”. This policy discussion would later help form the foundation of amendments to the Divorce Act of Canada which came into force in 2021.


10th anniversary, Ottawa Chapter


OAFM Annual General Meeting and Family Mediation Conference takes place in Ottawa, organized by Hania Grawbowski, Jane Pederson and Connie Renshaw.


Hania Grabowski, Jackie Huston, Lena Jones and others had lobbied the Government of Ontario and local judges to implement a Unified Family Court. They hoped to have family mediation included as an integral part of the new system. In 1999, while not entirely integrated, the Ottawa courthouse would feature court-based family mediation for the first time.

AccFM (OAFM) designation is adopted.


Court-based family mediation is established in the Ottawa courthouse. A holistic vision of the founding members from the early 1980s begins to take shape, with (i) the streamlining/unification of the family court system and (ii) the provision of mediation within the court system itself.

Mayor Jacquelin Holzman declares April 29-May 5 “Family Mediation Week”.


OAFM Ottawa Chapter partners with Family Mediation Canada (FMC) to sponsor a national conference in Gatineau, Quebec.


20th anniversary, Ottawa Chapter


Barbara Cohen, Chapter President, organizes a monthly radio broadcast featuring an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) segment hosted by Ottawa Chapter member Ernie Tannis.


Kenneth Cloke is featured at two-day workshop offered jointly by OAFM Ottawa Chapter and FMC.


Gala dinner and awards reception with Bernie Mayer, in honour of founding members.


The Walsh Family Law Moot was held in Toronto in honour of Justice George Walsh, the judge who had addressed the first annual meeting of the OAFM in 1982 when John Goodwin was the OAFM’s first president. Justice Walsh was at the forefront of the work to simplify, expedite, and humanize family court. Ottawa Chapter members contribute to this annual event by preparing law students for the negotiation competition and by volunteering as judges.


30th anniversary, Ottawa Chapter


The Honourable Justice Jennifer MacKinnon is the keynote speaker of the Chapter’s Annual General Meeting. She speaks on the role of mediation in access to justice.


Barb Cohen – together with Jane Murray and Marc MacAuley (sponsored by OAFM Ottawa, Family Services Ottawa and Collaborative Divorce Ottawa) – create the brochure titled Separation? Your Roadmap to Success: Information and Resources for Separating Couples (PDF), a user-friendly, bilingual infographic to help consumers understand the variety of dispute resolution options and their related costs for separation.


President Christopher Deeble collaborates with the President of the provincial OAFM to ensure timely written submissions to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

These are captured in the Report of the Committee to the Senate for Third Reading. See also Observations to the thirty-fourth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs (Bill C-78) (PDF).


In May, the annual Family Peacemakers Conference – a joint undertaking of the Ontario Association for Family Mediation and the Ontario Association for Collaborative Professionals — is held in Ottawa at the Brookstreet Hotel. President Christopher Deeble invites The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, to deliver a keynote speech at the Peacemakers Conference. The subject is the new Divorce Act amendment legislating a new priority being given to out-of-court dispute resolution, mediation being specifically legislated for the first time since the OAFM was founded.

In June, the federal Minister of Justice, David Lametti, addresses the Senate Committee, hailing the benefits of family mediation:

“We are trying to balance a number of different things. Frankly, I think we have the balance right. There are provisions where we are trying to encourage people to use reconciliation and mediation before going to court so that perhaps we can solve these issues beforehand. Then there are presumptive burdens when there is litigation, which actually also help mediation. If you know which way the court will frame its analysis, it helps push the mediation process before it ever gets to court, and hopefully it won’t get to court.”  

Senate submissions summarize decades of provincial- and federal-level policy research.

The Board of Directors leads a special town hall discussion with the Chapter and receives a unanimous mandate to undertake an organizational redevelopment of the Chapter.


President Valerie Morinville starts the work of organizational redevelopment by tasking committees with the following deliverables: Terms of Reference document to explain the raison d’etre of the Ottawa Chapter; a new website; a set of Bylaws; and a new Membership Policy.

On behalf of the Board, Shauna-marie Young leads a member engagement and consultation process that informs key points and concerns of the membership.


The Divorce Act of Canada and the Children’s Law Reform Act of Ontario come into force, amendments are re-written to recognize the importance of attempting to resolve disputes through mediation, negotiation, or collaborative law, to reduce the harm to children.

Shauna-marie Young interviews members. Themes and trends are collated, analyzed and presented to the Board. In collaboration with a third-party consultant, an organizational change/development plan is struck.


President Christopher Deeble continues the prior two years of ongoing, intensive work of organizational redevelopment commenced under Valerie Morinville’s leadership.

The results of the organizational change/development plan are now completed deliverables:

  • Terms of Reference
  • By-laws
  • Membership Policy
  • Website

The Chapter’s new website takes 10 months to develop, test and launch. It is the first officially bilingual website anywhere in the OAFM.


President Suzanne Winlove-Smith joins an advocacy committee organized by Mary-Anne Popesucue and Vicky Visca to raise the profile of mediation within the provincial government. Connections have been established with Parliamentary Assistants to the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services who have expressed great interest in mediation services, particularly intergenerational mediation for multi-generational families living together and in child protection mediation.

They will continue to raise awareness through efforts such as:

  • writing letters to members of Parliament to raise awareness of Mediation
  • strategize, plan and create materials relating to advocacy
  • meeting with MPP’s to cultivate positive connections
  • advocating for access to service for the indigenous community, survivors of domestic violence, and working with child and youth services
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